Artists First Interview

Working together – Artists First and Pallant House Gallery

Ahead of their exhibition in the Studio at Pallant House Gallery in December 2009, Marc Steene, Head of Learning introduces the Bristol-based artist collective Artists First, and then gives the floor for the group to speak in their own words about how together, the group becomes much more than the sum of their parts.

Pallant House Gallery first approached Artists First in 2008 to promote involvement in Outside In, the biennial art completion for marginalised and outsider artists housed at Pallant House Gallery. Artists First are an exemplary example of how to support artists in a way that encourages their personal, creative and professional development. It enables and supports the personal growth of the artists, encouraging ownership and truly shared decision making.

Pallant House Gallery is keen to support Artists First not only because it holds at its heart the simple but true statement that they are ‘artists first’, whatever society or the art world labels them as being, but also because the quality of the art work produced by the artists involved is of the highest standard, remarkable for its quality and individuality.

The Artists First attitude of putting the individual first and respecting their creativity is a core belief for Outside In and its aim to challenge the many cultural barriers that marginalised artists have to face in accessing the mainstream art-world.

Artists First

We are a group of sixteen artists based in Bristol. We are disabled visual artists with learning difficulties.  Some of us have been together since 1988, and Artists First has gone through many changes. We have learned a lot and we feel very strong and important as a group.

We are: Steve Canby, Brenda Carr, Carol Chilcott, Joan Clews, Brenda Cook, Brian Davis, Tom Hodson, Kevin Hogan, Tina Kelly, Liz Lane, Jacky Long, Sarah McGreevy, Claude Rimmer, Nicholas Selway, Kathy Stewart and Peter Sutton. We are Artists First.

Our job is to come together with our art, support each other and move it on. We want to exhibit and sell our work, to show we are strong and share our art with other people. We work to get our art noticed so people can see what we have done and see us as experienced artists: artists first. We want to be valued and respected as artists. We want to reach as many people as possible with our art.

Having the chance to make art is a wonderful thing, it is what we want to achieve in our lives, it is the job we want to do and Artists First is how we will do it.

There are lots of reasons why it is important for us to have exhibitions. It is important because we can share our art with people. It is important to show them how hard we work and how we work together. We come together with our art. We are serious about our art. Art brings people together; it links people up. We also want to sell our work because then we know how much someone likes our art, if they hang it on their wall at home.

Having people come to see our art makes it bigger and more important and it can make things happen. When people start coming together and linking with us, we are like a big company of people that is open to anyone and everyone.

It makes our art all the stronger; we become a wider range of people coming together through art. It makes art more accessible and exciting, it opens more and more doors, lets more and more people in; that’s what art does.

We have so many years of experience, art experience and life experience. We have lost people and we have gained people. All the experience we have makes us know what art can do, that it never stops and it will keep growing for the next generation.

We also know that people learn through art. Art is very powerful in this way, it is all about moving on. We believe that art can make a difference to people’s lives, we have proved it.

We would like to say to people, come and see our work, come and meet us. Let us know what you think, whether you like our work, or not. We hope our art will make you think differently, we hope our art will talk to you in many different ways.

Exhibition in the Studio at Pallant House Gallery: 1 December 2009 – 3 January 2010